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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XXVII, No. 3
Michaelmas 2012

Our Catholic Faith
Parish Initiative Produces a Study Guide for the Year of Faith

by Mary Jo Anderson

“The upcoming Year of Faith is an opportunity for every Catholic to turn towards Jesus Christ, encounter Him in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and rediscover the Faith and Church.” — US Conference of Catholic Bishops


Our world wobbles in political instability, economic uncertainty and moral confusion. Few still profess faith in man-made institutions. They’ve been stung by failing financial giants, sullied sports stars, and crumbling pillars of education. The idea of faith itself has fallen on hard times. What better time, then, to proclaim a Year of Faith? In his apostolic letter Porta Fidei, Pope Benedict XVI declared October 11, 2012 to November 24, 2013 as a Year of Faith: “It will be a moment of grace and commitment to a more complete conversion to God, to strengthen our faith in Him and proclaim Him with joy to the people of our time.”

The “people of our time” presents a decided challenge. The Holy Father asks the “whole Church to lead men out of the desert in which they often find themselves, to the place of life, of friendship with Christ.”

One is tempted to sketch “the whole Church” on one side of a river, proclaiming to the “people of our time” on the other bank, so great does the divide seem at times. How are we to begin? Ever practical, Pope Benedict first urges us (the whole Church) to strengthen our own faith in Jesus, before we proclaim Him to those in the metaphorical desert.

An effective tool for Catholics who seek to deepen their personal formation is Our Catholic Faith; A Study Guide for Faith Formation. The guide began informally eleven years ago at St. James Cathedral parish in the Diocese of Orlando, Florida. A group of frustrated parishioners — unable to respond to questions from Protestant friends or co-workers — formed a small study group.

They assembled various books and audio tapes, but relied primarily on the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the guidance of Father John McCormick, their pastor. Often participants would exclaim, “I never understood this teaching before,” or, “I’m confused, does the Church still teach that?” Within months lives changed: participants began regular confessions and daily Mass, irregular marriages were validated in the Church, an obstetrician stopped prescribing birth control, “pro-choice” Catholics repented, and at least one abortion was prevented.

Word of this compelling “good fruit” spread quickly; new groups formed and more copies of the study were printed on home computers. The following year, Our Catholic Faith jumped to surrounding parishes. Each time the study was offered, people remarked on their newfound love for the richness of Catholic tradition. Many developed an evangelical zeal that propelled them into new initiatives. Some said, “This study changed my life!”

Today the guide is published in English and Spanish by Dominicus Press. The guide is used by groups in Florida, Texas, Alabama, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. At least one Florida parish includes Our Catholic Faith in its catechesis for Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) candidates. Priests in parishes where the guide is featured find it to be a strong support for the entire parish community because participants look for ways to serve their fellow parishioners.

Structure of Our Catholic Faith: A Study Guide for Faith Formation

Much of the success of the guide is found in its structure and the orthodoxy of the content. Its preface quotes Pope John Paul II’s Fidei Depositum, the document that accompanied the release of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Guarding the deposit of faith is the mission which the Lord entrusted to His Church and which she fulfills in every age.” The primary texts are the Revised Standard Version-Catholic Edition of the Bible, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Magisterial documents and Church classics form a second tier of study resources, and suggested tapes, websites, and additional reading are specific to each lesson.

The guide is a collaborative twelve-week study for 10-12 people plus a facilitator. (Several groups can run concurrently.) Each participant is issued a guide, selects a topic from the twelve lessons, then prepares a one-hour teaching to present to the group. The presentation is personal, but follows an outline designed to ensure that the basic material is covered. Each lesson is inherently unique because examples and insights are particular to the person giving that week’s presentation. Here are the guide’s twelve lessons:

The Canonization of Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Participants examine the history of the Old Testament, become familiar with the differences in the Catholic and Protestant bibles, understand the role of Tradition, and learn how to use the Catechism. Examples of supplementary reading include “Which came first, the Church or the Bible?” by John Martignoni.

The Fathers of the Church

Participants review the influence of the Fathers on the early Church, understand the difference between Tradition (T) and tradition (t), become familiar with the Arian heresy and read the Didache. Additional resources include The Fathers of the Church by Mike Aquilina and “Church History: The First 500 Years” by Edmund Mazza, PhD.

The Papacy and the Teaching Authority of the Church

Group is familiarized with the commission Jesus gave Peter, why the authority of the pope is a gift to the Church, the meaning of infallibility, and the four marks of the Church. Supple- mental materials include The Faith Explained by Leo J. Trese and “Apostolic Succession: You Can Trust the Church” by Steve Ray.

The Sacrament of Baptism

Participants examine Original Sin, the necessity for baptism — its effect and fruits, study sacramental matter and form, and learn the importance of sanctifying grace. Additional readings are found on the Vatican website. Of particular interest for many is the tender topic of what happens to unbaptized infants, with readings from “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die without Being Baptized” by the International Theological Commission (January 19, 2007).

The Sacrament of Reconciliation

An introspective chapter in which the group reviews the meaning of sin, the state of a soul, venial and mortal sin, the distinction between temporal and eternal punishment, the necessity for and grace of confession, the solemn requirement of the confessional seal, and how to examine your conscience. Supplemental material includes “A Guide to Confession” by the Knights of Columbus.

The Sacrament of Holy Eucharist

An exploration of covenant and sacrifice, redemption, the Real Presence, Eucharistic Adoration, and how to prepare to receive Communion. Participants compare Passover and the Last Supper. Additional resources include “The Holy Eucharist” by Father Bill Casey, CPM (Lighthouse Media).

The Sacrament of Marriage

Always a revelation, this lesson covers sacramental marriage and how marriage mirrors the union of Christ and His Bride, the Church. The group examines civil divorce, annulments, and the significance of married love and parenthood. Further study is offered, including “Catholic Teaching on Marriage and Annulments” by Bishop Joseph Perry and Pope John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio.

Salvation and Redemption

This lesson covers the need for redemption; insufficiency of Old Testament sacrifices; the significance of free will, salvation, justification, faith, grace, works; and the Church as the conduit through which the faithful are offered the grace to cooperate with God’s plan of salvation. Extra study resources include Catholicism and Fundamentalism by Karl Keating.

The Blessed Virgin Mary

The group looks at the Church’s ancient and ever-present devotion to the Mother of God. Main objectives are to understand Mary as the Ark of the Covenant, the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, the teaching on perpetual virginity and a review of how to say the Rosary. Supplemental material includes Father Peter Stravinskas’s The Catholic Answer Book of Mary, and Mother of the Redeemer by Father Mitchell Pacwa, SJ.

The Communion of Saints

Participants review the Church’s authority to dispense the merits of Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints, and examine indulgences, atonement, intercessory prayer, and prayers for the dead. Additional resources include “Heaven, Hell and Purgatory” by Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio.

The Dignity and Sanctity of Human Life

Always a spirited session, this lesson puts creation and God’s plan for man at the core — then covers the hot-button cultural issues of the day, such as contraception, abortion, homosexual acts, cloning, euthanasia, and capital punishment. Especially helpful is a review of a Catholic “living will.” Supplemental material includes “Just War Doctrine” (Catholic Answers), and the Declaration on Euthanasia from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (May 5, 1980).

The Liturgical Celebration

The guide concludes with a deeper discussion of the Mass. The group learns why people cannot “make” worship, but rather participate in the worship that God reveals to us. Liturgical signs and symbols as well as specific parts of the Mass are reviewed. “Active participation,” our response at Mass, is stressed. Among suggested resources for further study is The Spirit of the Liturgy by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI.

Our Catholic Faith opens participants to the glory that is the Church. Once one encounters the Lord through His Bride, a renewed spiritual life begins. It is this revitalized faith that sends participants out to proclaim the Good News with joy to the “people of our time.”

More information:


Mary Jo Anderson, a member of the Voices editorial board, lives in Orlando, Florida, with her husband, Frank. She speaks and writes frequently on Catholic issues, and is a member of the US bishops’ National Advisory Council.

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